Furious Fiction 12 – June 2020

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

Here is my entry for June’s Furious Fiction, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly competition. Lockdown is nearly over here in Australia, but things remain unsettled with racial tension adding another dangerous element to the world’s instability.

As I’ve said before, this competition is a fun activity with a terrific prize. You can read about it on their website.

Basically, it’s 500 words in 55 hours for a $500 prize.

The criteria for June were:

  • Your story’s first and last words must begin with J.
  • Your story must include a game being played.
  • Your story must include the phrase MISS/MISSED THE BOAT.

I’ve continued with Frankie’s journey and although I feel it is unlikely this chapter will make much sense as a stand-alone piece, I am now more focused on the challenge of completing his story using the prompts given.

This month’s entry was submitted on Saturday night at 22:15. 496 words.

You can read the previous chapter in Frankie’s story here.


Chapter 5: Justice for all.

Justice is a tricky concept.  Frankie knew justice didn’t mean fair. It didn’t mean right. It didn’t even mean protection of the innocent. It was a game invented by the people who owned the ball.  A blood sport rigged to ensure the rich always won, even if they broke their own rules. 

Frankie was playing for the wrong team. Judge O’Mallory, on the other hand, was on the winning side. Frankie imagined O’Mallory had been fullback for the First XV at St Swanky’s or wherever his type goes to school.  He probably went to boarding school, packed off at five by his neglectful cold-hearted parents. 

As the bailiff dragged him screaming from the courtroom, Frankie decided it was time he learnt to play by their rules.

He needed someone to tell his story.

——-

“Bailiff! Take him down!” The thunderous words were still ringing in Judge O’Mallory’s ears as the door slammed on Frankie. He wasn’t feeling like a winner. He’d sentenced another poor wretch to five years in prison on the whim of a corrupt government. A government that allowed for the tyrannical rule of the black-shirted Fashion Police. 

—–

Personal grooming had sunk to all-time lows after COVID. People didn’t even bother wearing pants when they were Zooming! The lack of respect spilt over into other areas of life and before long there was anarchy!  

The lack of decency and dignity was deplorable! Someone needed to do something! 

Someone did. 

The UCP. 

The Ultra Conservative Party burst onto the scene after the Pandemic with their promises of a return to the “Old Normal”. Changes in the laws were incremental. Like a lobster in a pot, the heat was turned up so slowly no-one noticed until it was too late. The populous had missed the boat on the democracy front.

Low-slung jeans were the first to go. No more dudes with the crotch of their jeans down around their knees. Who could argue with that? A ban on exposed underwear was quickly followed by the prohibition of activewear anywhere other than the gym. Again a significant portion of the population supported that particular ruling. 

Then bright colours, florals, patterns, stripes and animal prints.  

The UCP controlled the market by buying out all the boutiques.  Easily done, since most had gone under in the lockdown.

They introduced a regulated monochromatic capsule wardrobe which stipulated less than twenty items, a mandated date for changing from one season’s capsule to the next, and jail time for those who breached the code. 

—–

O’Mallory wasn’t the only judge feeling uncomfortable about the fashion laws. The secret rumblings amongst his colleagues were getting bolder.

They needed someone to tell their story.

Frankie’s opinion of O’Mallory was wrong. He didn’t know he had an ally in silk and horsehair

Both men needed the same thing, a fearless storyteller! Someone who was willing to blow the whistle on corruption and intolerance. Did such a person still exist? 

What they needed was a bloody good journalist! 

Cracker Night no more.

Here’s a link to a post I wrote two years ago! I noticed it was getting a bit of traffic so people must be looking for stories about Cracker Night.

This weekend is the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend again. As was the case two years ago, there’ll be no fireworks tonight. COVID restrictions are almost all lifted but large gatherings are still prohibited. Even without COVID19, I doubt I will hear many crackers tonight.

It’s no longer a thing. In my childhood, it was a huge event, eagerly anticipated. We would save up to buy crackers for weeks. It was not without its problems. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald points out the inherent dangers.

The Sad Case of the Vanishing Cracker Night

 

Snapshots from Wollongong – Wollongong

W is also for Wollongong

It’s been a little while since I posted in my Snapshots from Wollongong Series  and like I said in the  Snapshot for Woonona, Wollongong has more than its fair share of suburbs starting with W. The heart of the city is itself, called Wollongong.  I live in Wollongong.

The suburb of Wollongong

This is the biggest the “big smoke” gets in the Illawarra! As well as being home to more than 18,000 people we have the Mall, the Municipal Buildings, night clubs, the CBD, restaurants etc. There is a small art gallery, as well as the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. There are lots of commercial offices with doctors, architects and the like. Wollongong plays host to the State Headquarters of the SES. There is a large regional  Police Station and Courthouse. If you have business to do, no doubt most of it will be done in Wollongong.

Wollongong City Infographic

There is one long beach, Wollongong City Beach, which stretches down to Port Kembla. The southern part of this beach is called Coniston Beach. City Beach is patrolled in the season. Coniston Beach is not patrolled but it is a dog-off-leash area, so it’s very popular with pet owners. If you would prefer not to swim in the open ocean, head to the Continental Pools which are on the foreshore walk known as the Blue Mile.

a long beach with a dark cloudy sky
Wollongong’s City Beach Looking Towards Port Kembla

Belmore Basin, the area nestled between the Breakwater Lighthouse and the breakwater itself, is a great place for families to enjoy the outdoors with cafes, a sheltered swimming area, pretty scenery and play equipment. This area is the hub for many of our city’s celebrations such as Australia Day. The other big park, McCabe Park, hosts events as well such as Viva La Gong and the annual celebration of the city’s multicultural community.

The northern end of Keira Street has many restaurants including Caveau, our only “hatted” establishment. Corrimal Street also has a concentration of restaurants. The mall has recently been refurbished and is now a great open space where you can enjoy markets on Fridays, and Eat Street on Thursdays. You might like to look at the interesting street art – the Palm Trees. Residents are still scratching their heads about that one!

 

The WIN Stadium, which is home to the St George – Illawarra Dragons (a rugby league team)  is a stadium with a capacity of 23,000 is right on the beach and next door to the Wollongong Entertainment Centre. Elton John played at the WIN Stadium in 2019. I think there were as many people sitting on the beach enjoying his music for free as there were inside the stadium! This is also a great precinct for a conference.

Continental Pools, Wollogong Harbour
The Continental Pools

Photo 27-12-2013 12 10 11

The Little Lighthouse - Wollongong
Lighthouse at sunrise

There are two lighthouses, a working harbour, a teaching hospital and a golf club. The dominating feature though is the apartment buildings that are being built at a prodigious rate. Seventy-one % of the people living in Wollongong live in apartments.  The cranes are busy building more.

Wollongong also has a series of very good street murals which I have written about previously.

One of the features I really enjoy about Wollongong is the presence of good Op Shops, my favourite being the Salvos and then Lifeline.

Wollongong has certainly shaken off its “country town” persona and is a modern and cosmopolitan regional city. Many people will still travel up to Sydney for entertainment, but for an Old Chook like me, Wollongong has enough going on to keep me quite busy!

Furious Fiction 11 – May 2020

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

Another First Friday rolls around and here is my entry for May’s Furious Fiction, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly competition. Like last month we are still in lock down, although restrictions are beginning to be lifted in most places. Hopefully, not too soon. My heart goes out to the people of America who are now suffering the most.

As I’ve said before this competition is a fun activity with a terrific prize. You can read about it on their website.

Basically, it’s 500 words in 55 hours for a $500 prize.

The criteria for May were:

  • Your story’s first word must be FIVE.
  • Your story must include something being replaced.
  • Your story must include the phrase A SILVER LINING (‘a’ or ‘the’ is fine).

This month I was able to achieve my aim of getting Frankie in front of the judge. I also realised in my first chapter of this story our protagonist’s name was Charlie and somewhere along the line I switched it to Frankie. Ah well, from now on our flamboyant dresser is Frankie!

This month’s entry was submitted on Sunday morning about 9 AM although it was essentially finished on Saturday afternoon. 496 words.


Andrea’s Surprise

‘FIVE YEARS? You’ve GOT to be joking? Because I wore brightly coloured clothes? FASCIST!’ Frankie shouted as the gavel hit the sound block.

‘ORDER!’ Judge O’Mallory shouted back, ‘Bailiff! Take him down!’

‘Five years? I can’t! I’ll die!’ Frankie pleaded with his barrister. ‘Please! Do something, you’ve got to appeal!’

The barrister nonchalantly scratched the itch under the horsehair wig as the door slammed on Frankie and the din of his wails receded.

Do the crime pal, pay the time! Andrea thought. Frankie had been a difficult client. He had flouted the law several times, had already served time and here he was again only a few months after he had been released. He shouldn’t be surprised.

He was a recidivist.

He deserved it!

Didn’t he?

On the other hand, these Fashion Police and the Fashion Laws were getting a little out of hand. She couldn’t help thinking it was just another “-ism” oppressing the poor.

Well, it didn’t really matter what she thought, it was the law!

The bubble surrounding her reverie popped as Andrea caught the eye of her learned colleague across the aisle, winking and nodding his head ever so slightly toward the door. Although her own reaction was equally as imperceptible, the message was received loud and clear, and thirty minutes later Lloyd and Andrea were shouting seductively at each other across the noisy crowd in a bar. Crime Does Pay was a very popular venue for the lost souls of the legal fraternity. There was no colour there, only a sea of grey. The black gowns and white jabots replaced by the sedate and State-sanctioned garb that kept the law off their own backs.

They could let their hair down, but not their guard! No-one was safe from the Fashion Police. No-one.

 ‘What I don’t understand,’ Lloyd bellowed above the ruckus, ‘is why you take on these cases in the first place, Andrea?’

She had liked the look of Lloyd, but the more she got to know him, the more she realised their values were not aligned, and maybe looks were not enough. But then, it was Friday night, and it beat going home alone.

 ‘You know I can’t resist the underdog!’ she laughed.

 Lloyd pulled her close, ‘Ready to go? I’ve got a real surprise for you tonight!’

Andrea was perched on the window sill of the hotel room, high above the sparkling harbour. She smiled at her reflection, knowing the pink negligee was irresistible. She sipped her Moet and in her best bedroom voice called out,

‘Where’s this surprise you promised me?’ 

Lloyd emerged from the ensuite, naked. Naked except for a black cape with a silver lining.

He twirled.

The cape sparkled.

She gasped.

It was then that Andrea realised the real benefit of money was not buying expensive things, but rather a way of enabling you to hide your own vices and avoid detection.  Crime did pay –  her!

‘Now, that’s what I call a surprise!’ she cooed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pelicans

Lake Illawarra

Pelican Portraits

The COVID19 movement restrictions are being lifted in NSW and we are all getting outside more. Getting back to “normal” and exploring our still clean environment. I went out last weekend for my first photo safari for a very long time. I wandered along the shore of Lake Illawarra and took some rather nice portraits of pelicans.

Pelicans are lovely birds. Big and ungainly on land, but magnificent flyers. Their broad wings carrying their heavy bodies effortlessly.

They eyed off the human fisherman with cheeky stares.

P1930901pelicansLake Illawarra fishermen

Furious Fiction 10 – April 2020

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

Another First Friday rolls around and here is my entry for April’s Furious Fiction, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly competition. This month I didn’t have to feel guilty about being at home in front of my computer on both Friday and Saturday nights. Australia and most of the world remain in some form of lock-down. Your location will add a different flavour to your circumstances, with some countries in complete lockdown and others having what can only be described as a half-hearted attempt.

As I’ve said before this competition is a fun activity with a terrific prize. You can read about it on their website.

Basically, it’s 500 words in 55 hours for a $500 prize.

The criteria for April were:

  • Your story must begin on the side of a road.
  • Your story must include the words APRON, PIGMENT, RIBBON, ICON, LEMON (plurals are okay).
  • Your story must include a splash.

As I said back in March, I intended to  write the next chapter in my story about Frankie, the flamboyant dresser. I actually had a story mapped out and had even made a voice recording so I would not forget it.  It WAS going to be the next chapter, after Frankie’s arrest and prison processing. However, I could not get the prompts to fit that story so I have written Chapter 0, the start of Frankie’s journey. Perhaps next month I can get Frankie into court!

This month’s Furious Fiction entry was submitted at 8:20AM Sunday. 497 words.

a red dirt road stretching into the horizon

Frankie Starts His Journey.

Frankie stood up at the first sight of bulldust rising on the horizon. He got ready to wave down the approaching road train. His ticket to the big smoke. He’d had enough of living a lie out here in the back of beyond. It was time to cut those apron strings and leave the family home. He was never going to fit in out here. Never. He was a round peg in a very square hole.

The bulldust cloud was getting closer. The bright red pigment paint screaming out “Broome or Bust!” from his sign. He hoisted his backpack, so he’d be ready when the driver slowed down. Frankie was in no doubt the driver would slow down, it was outback lore. No one, no decent person, would leave a lone hitchhiker out here without asking if they were OK.

By the time Frankie’s imagined road train was a hundred metres away, it had morphed into a yellow Kombi. The front tyre was flat, and the VW icon dangled on a ribbon from the windshield wipers.

Frankie wasn’t sure he wanted a lift in this particular lemon. Would it even make it to the next town, let alone Broome? He couldn’t be choosy, it was the first vehicle to pass him in four hours, and it was getting dark. The Kombi did slow down. It clanged to a stop with a burst of black smoke exploding from the dragging exhaust.

“MAN!” the driver said, “AM I glad to see YOU! I’m lost, my Kombi’s stuffed and I JUST ran out of petrol!”

Frankie blinked. When he opened his eyes, the Kombi was still there, still smoking.

The driver jumped down and held out his hand. “Name’s George,” he said, pumping Frankie’s hand enthusiastically while raising his eyebrow quizzically.

“Errr…Frankie,” Frankie said after an awkward pause. He realised he had been staring. George sure must have had some balls to be out here, in this place, dressed like that! His outfit was a riot of colour and style. A glorious cascade of sequins on satin. Frankie’s own chambray and denim, a shameful deception hiding his real desires,

“Let’s get this piece of shit off the road!” George said as he put his shoulder against the dead van. The heaving ended abruptly when the Kombi rolled down the embankment, hit a rock and teetered over.

CRUNCH!

“SHIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTT!” they said in unison, laughing. Unfazed, George scrambled down to retrieve some gear through the now smashed window. A huge suitcase, a pair of tall black boots, and a bottle of rum.

“Care for a splash of something smooth, Frankie? I think it’s gonna be a long night.”

They laughed again and sat down to wait for a real road train.

For the first time in his life, Frankie felt at ease with another human. He had found his tribe, here on the edge of the Gibson Desert. He’d found another round peg that wasn’t trying to squeeze into any square holes!

270413_3193

NOTE: some Aussie slang:

Lemon = a broken down car bought cheap and not likely to last long.

1 May 2020: EDITED TO ADD: I just realised my main character’s name changed.  In the first episode, his name was Charlie and the guard’s name was Frankie. Here I called our protagonist Frankie! Whoops! From now on he’ll be Frankie, the flamboyant dresser.

Reader Survey 2020

Personal Blog - personal photos

Hello! Is there anybody out there?

In 2019, I asked for your input through a reader survey. It’s time to do it again. I want to find out what is or isn’t working with this blog.

Since the first survey, I have been working on improving my SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and employed a copy editor who is fixing my typos and spelling errors. (Thanks Mum!) I have continued to write a long format post every week, and I included an additional weekly Photo of the Week post.

In 2020 I am going to

  • Continue with my promotion of my home town with the Snapshots from Wollongong series.
  • Have a focus on environmental issues, upcycling and how we can do better while using fewer resources.
  • Replace the Photo of the Week challenge with a mini-documentary of the week. This could be really challenging!!
  • Give quarterly updates on my Year of Zero (mainly to keep me accountable rather than entertain you!).
  • Continue to champion the life and times of older women.

According to my stats, I have more than 468 followers, an increase of 34 since the last survey. Despite this, I rarely get more than 30 views on each of my posts. Does this mean no-one out there is reading or are you reading via the WordPress Reader page? Perhaps you are reading in your email rather than on the browser? Apparently, you only get “views” counted in your stats if readers read your post on your actual webpage. (In which case, I’d appreciate you opening the posts in your browser so I know you’re there.)

I’d like to get an idea of who is out there and why you’re reading (or not reading as the case may be)

Can you help me out by filling in this survey? Thanks! 😀

Old Chook Enterprises Reader Survey 2020.

Please don’t add your name or other identifying information. It’s better if it’s anonymous and please play nice!

PS: I will collect responses and turn the survey off on March 6th 2020.

 

 

 

Australia’s Day? Mini-Doc 4

Should we change the day we celebrate Australia Day?

This clip was taken down at Wollongong Harbour on Australia Day 2020. While offering no answers, it raises the question “is the 26th of January the best day for celebrating our nationhood?”

Should we choose a different date or should we commemorate it in a different way?

 

All footage on iPhone SMAX edited using iMovie and Spark Video on my phone.

You can find lots of information about this issue. This SBS News clip is a good place to start.

Bowel cancer and the dreaded colonoscopy.

If you live in Australia, you will get at least one 50th birthday present – guaranteed! Your bowel cancer testing kit will turn up in the mail! I put my first “gift” on the shelf and left it there for the next two years until I got another one at 52. I chucked the first one out and replaced it on the shelf with the new kit. After a few more weeks, I decided that it was probably a good idea to just get it over and done with.

There was no reason to delay, and I am not sure what my aversion to doing it was. I am not the squeamish type, and I KNOW early detection is essential. My tests at 54 and 56 were both negative, but this time round, one of my samples came back positive.

My GP and I discussed my risk factors and decided that I could afford the wait to get a place at the local public hospital rather than paying for a private hospital.  I filed my papers and went on the waiting list. Now 5 months after the results and 2 months since my specialist appointment, I have my date for the “procedure”.

The positive result surprised me. My family has no history of cancer. Plenty of other things like Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, narcolepsy, dementia, haemochromatosis but no cancer!

I have always been a healthy eater, and over the last 2 years have been actively creating a healthy gut by feeding my gut bugs plenty of plant-based food, exercising, reducing my alcohol intake and reducing stress. My gut should be singing with good health!

Given I have yet to have the test, my gut may be very healthy indeed! What follows is a blow by blow real-time account. Don’t be prudish, this is what being older than 50 is all about! I am grateful I live somewhere with good free healthcare!

 

Preparing for your colonoscopy

There is a two-day preparation process. The aim is to clear out your bowel so that the colonoscope can see what’s inside your large intestine with an unobstructed view. The hospital or your doctor will give you some laxatives and tell you when to take them.

Two days before the  procedure

Today is white day. My diet is usually a rainbow of plant-based foods. This made the list of allowable foods very unpalatable and alien. You can only eat white or yellow food. No seeds, no fibre, no colour! Only dairy products, boiled eggs, white fish, boiled chicken, boiled potatoes, stewed apple. Ewwwww!  All washed down with plenty of fluids. As I ate my white rice with boiled eggs, I apologised to my gut bugs. Sorry fellas! You’ll be going hungry too! No fibre left over for you to munch on today! I got some yellow Gatorade in readiness for tomorrow.

At least I’m not hungry!

The day before the procedure.

NO SOLID FOOD today!

Only clear liquids. Tea without milk, coffee without milk, clear apple juice, Gatorade that’s it! I started to feel light-headed by 12:30. MAN! I was hungry!

Since my procedure is set for the morning, my first dose of PicoPrep is scheduled for 2 PM. I took the afternoon off work because I had been told some horror stories about the rapidity of onset. The Picoprep didn’t taste too bad. It was gritty and akin to drinking chalk, but it had little flavour. I sculled it down in one go and sat down to wait.

And I waited!

…. And waited!

As a good scientist, I took notes of my observations. Nothing happened till about 17:30. Two trips to the loo but things seemed “normal”. This is not too bad, I thought to myself. I waited some more and then the shit did hit the fan! Perhaps not the literal fan, but you get my drift!

18:50

19:01

19:03

19:05

Gosh, I feel like I am going to turn inside out.

My second dose of Picoprep is due at 20:00. Could there be anything left? This time it was harder to swallow. The novelty had well and truly worn off. I stopped feeling hungry, and I felt a little shaky.

After midnight it’s Nil by Mouth!

Day of the procedure

I slept better than anticipated, although, I needed to dash to the bathroom a couple of times.

Ten minutes after arrival, I was taken into the admissions area where my blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate and oxygen saturation were checked after answering the usual questions of name, date of birth and why I was there. The nurse and I had a chat about whether or not we had met before because she said I looked familiar.

colonoscopy 2Within 30 minutes, the anesthetist came and inserted a cannula in my hand and asked the same questions again.

Thirty minutes after that, I was taken into the procedure room, and the sedative was given through the cannula and an oxygen mask applied. The next thing I know, I was being shaken gently by the nurse, asking if I was OK, back in the recovery area. I could have gone to the moon and back for all I knew!

No pain, no discomfort, only a little temporary disorientation. Once my vitals were re-checked, I was moved from the bed to a comfy recliner where I was given some food and a cup of tea. My goodness that plain cheese sandwich tasted good!

The doctor who performed the procedure told me he had removed two polyps, and that I had a few diverticula, but nothing really to worry about.  I will meet with the gastroenterologist in three weeks for the follow-up.

colonoscopy 1Another 40 minutes later my brother had dropped me home, and it’s all over.   I’ll do as instructed and take it easy for the rest of the day, no driving, no making important decisions, no cooking(??). So here I am, in front of my computer chatting with you folks!

Playing Dr Google

Of course, I played Dr Google leading up to the event. I found this video from an American source helpful and the Cancer Health NSW site is terrific.

 

This friendly chap tells you how to do the poo test

 

If detected early bowel cancer can be treated in up to 90% of cases. 


Talking about poo and having a flexible tube inside your intestines may not be a sexy subject to talk about, but neither is dying from bowel cancer. If you have access to early detection tools like the one offered in Australia, take it up.

Enjoy your birthday gift!

 

MARCH 2020 UPDATE: I had my follow-up with the gastroenterologist yesterday. During the procedure they removed 4 polyps (not 2). All but one were of no concern. The fourth one was of a type that can become malignant but is VERY slow to develop. I have to go and and have another colonoscopy in three years….so no rush!